Examination of witnesses (Questions 71
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
GARDINER and MR
71. For the record, perhaps our witnesses would
(Mr Bennett) I am Tim Bennett, Deputy President of
the National Farmers' Union.
(Mr Gardiner) I am Ian Gardiner, Deputy Director-General
of the NFU.
(Mr Raymond) I am Meurig Raymond, Council delegate
to the NFU. I was involved in the IACS Farm Inspection Group.
(Mr Pearce) I am Kevin Pearce, NFU Chief Adviser on
beef, sheep and LFAs.
72. Were you surprised by the conclusions of
the IACS and Inspections Working Party that there was little evidence
that UK farmers were particularly disadvantaged in comparison
with their EU counterparts in the implementation of the IACS schemes?
(Mr Bennett) We were not surprised, in the sense that
for some years we had tried to find out how other Member States
implemented IACS. We found it quite difficult. The message that
emerges from other Member States is that it is very complex and
bureaucratic. When we try to go beyond that we find it very difficult
to discover how other Member States implement the system. We see
differences. For example, explanatory notes are different in other
Member States. In some cases the notes are much shorter, for example
eight pages instead of 48 pages. In some Member States farmers
get more assistance from officials. The key point is that most
Member States are way in front of us in terms of land registration
which may make things slightly easier for them. In general, we
were not surprised by the conclusion.
73. I do not understand why you find it so difficult
to get hold of the information. You say that "the information
available from other Member States is scant and appears [to be]
shrouded in secrecy." If the French farmers' union phoned
you and asked how you did it you would send the information, and
I am sure that MAFF would do likewise. You would not regard it
as a state secret. After all, British farmers farm in France.
Hardly a day goes by without one seeing articles about the emigration
of British farmers to France. You deal with your colleagues in
all kinds of Europe-wide organisations. Does not the network work?
(Mr Bennett) Normally, the network works quite well.
When we get into something as complex as this we find that the
messages themselves vary within the Member States. Therefore,
we find that it is difficult to get clear and accurate information.
For example, we have some clear information coming from FranceI
spoke to the official who developed the systemthat the
system was to be changed so that all information would be on computers.
Effectively, they will do the work for farmers and inform them
of what their claims will be. It is hoped to do that within two
years. The farmer will receive a form and then agree that that
is his claim.
74. It is rather like an income tax code?
(Mr Bennett) Yes. However, that is dependent on having
all the databases on all the schemes in France talking to each
other, which is obviously not the case in the UK at the moment.
75. As far as concern the Commission and Court
of Auditors, how do you rate their monitoring of the way in which
Member States apply the rules?
(Mr Bennett) As for the UK, there is a fear within
MAFF of the auditors which colours decisions about flexibility
in terms of mistakes or slight errors that are made. I also get
the impressionI do not know whether my colleagues agreethat
fear also exists among all Member States. One sees that from the
fact that nearly every Member State has been caught out and had
to pay money back every year for the past few years.
76. Do you regard disallowance as a badge of
(Mr Bennett) It certainly shows that the people who
administer the scheme are trying to do their level best to ensure
that it operates for the benefit of farmers. In that sense I would
perhaps agree with you.
77. What do you believe were the most important
recommendations of the review group? Was there anything which
you felt it did not go into in sufficient detail because of time
constraints or the nature of its mandate?
(Mr Bennett) As to operations in other Member States,
it would have been useful to have more information. We were quite
pleased with the recommendation about the appeal system. As Mr
Raymond was involved in the group perhaps he would like to comment
(Mr Raymond) Time was short. We would have liked to
have done more research into how other Member States implemented
IACS. I am aware that Don Curry went to Holland, France and the
Republic of Ireland. It was difficult to obtain information to
compare their operation with ours. I travelled to some of the
Regional Centres and detected real fear amongst officials within
the Regional Centres regarding inspections by EU auditors. We
were fairly well convinced at the end of our deliberations that
the same kind of rules and concerns applied in the Member States
from which we managed to obtain information.
78. You say that "there are a number of
outstanding issues that still need to be acted on or resolved."
Could you give me the top three in order?
(Mr Raymond) Obviously, the appeal mechanism is important.
The consultation period is very important for the industry. In
the past, farmers through no fault of their own have made arithmetic
mistakes, or ticked the wrong box, and felt that there is no-one
to whom they can turn to have their case heard. I should like
to see the database at the Cattle Tracing Centre completed. I
believe that there could be a huge improvement as far as form-filling
is concerned. As to the beef special premium and slaughter premium,
one may have a situation in which there is no need for farmers
to spend time filling out claim forms when all that information
is on a database. Those are two areas in which I should like to
see the process speeded up.
79. Does anyone want to offer a third?
(Mr Gardiner) The third must be the movement towards
computerisation and electronic submission of forms, partly because
an important source of difficulty is transcription errors between
the farm records and the form. The form can avoid that. The other
issue is inconsistencies in filling in the form. Again, the back-up
to the form will sort it out as the applicant fills in the information.